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At SlateStarCodex, Scott Alexander offers one of his extraordinarily useful book reviews:

BOOK REVIEW: SECULAR CYCLES
POSTED ON AUGUST 12, 2019 BY SCOTT ALEXANDER

There is a tide in the affairs of men. It cycles with a period of about three hundred years. During its flood, farms and businesses prosper, and great empires enjoy golden ages. During its ebb, war and famine stalk the land, and states collapse into barbarism.

At least this is the thesis of Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov, authors of Secular Cycles. They start off Malthusian: due to natural reproduction, population will keep increasing until it reaches the limits of what the land can support. At that point, everyone will be stuck at subsistence level. If any group ever enjoys a standard of living above subsistence level, they will keep reproducing until they are back down at subsistence.

Standard Malthusian theory evokes images of a population stable at subsistence level forever. But Turchin and Nefedov argues this isn’t how it works. A population at subsistence will always be one meal away from starving. When a famine hits, many of them will starve. When a plague hits, they will already be too sickly to fight it off. When conflict arrives, they will be desperate enough to enlist in the armies of whichever warlord can offer them a warm meal.

These are not piecemeal events, picking off just enough of the population to bring it back to subsistence. They are great cataclysms. The Black Plague killed 30% – 60% of Europeans; the Antonine Plague of Rome was almost as deadly. The Thirty Years War killed 25% – 40% of Germans; the Time of Troubles may have killed 50% of medieval Russia.

Thus the secular cycle. When population is low, everyone has more than enough land. People grow rich and reproduce. As time goes on, the same amount of farmland gets split among more and more people. Wages are driven down to subsistence. War, Famine, and Pestilence ravage the land, with Death not far behind. The killings continue until population is low again, at which point the cycle starts over.

This applies mostly to peasants, who are most at risk of starving. But nobles go through a related process. As a cycle begins, their numbers are low. As time goes on, their population expands, both through natural reproduction and through upward mobility. Eventually, there are more nobles than there are good positions…

I wish I could find commentary by other academics and historians on Secular Cycles, or on Turchin’s work more generally. I feel like somebody should either be angrily debunking this, or else throwing the authors a ticker-tape parade for having solved history. Neither is happening. The few comments I can find are mostly limited to navel gazing about whether history should be quantitative or qualitative.

– I think Turchin doesn’t get much attention because his books are too reasonable to be easily debunked and too enormously detailed to be easily digested and too ambitious to be easily trusted. I’ve given him a moderate amount of publicity over the years, but haven’t really gone into great detail about him lately because he’s more or less over my head.

He could be the Real Deal. On the other hand, he might wind up as forgotten as famous synthetic historians of the past like Toynbee. He’s playing in the big leagues.

By the way, Turchin has made a number of predictions for the near future, such as 2020 being a turbulent year. So we may have a better idea of how much to laud him in 18 months.

– In general, while I am positive toward many of Turchin’s ideas, his confidence that he can put Hari Seldon-like dates on future cycles strikes me as over-ambitious. For example, I have a pretty good track record of foreseeing the ideological evolution of the American Establishment, but I almost never try to put dates on when I think things will happen, because I’d probably be embarrassingly wrong.

A lot of times things just bump along in the same old rut for longer than observers can imagine. I suspect one of the skills of Tetlock’s Super Forecasters is that when making forecasts for the next 12 months, they are less likely to assume that something that is likely to happen eventually will happen right now. For example, the South China Sea might well be a big crisis someday, but the can could also get kicked down the road for quite some time before something big happens.

For example, this October with be the 25th Anniversary of “The Bell Curve” Controversy, with nothing all that exciting having happened over the last 24 years. I could imagine an 85-year-old me writing a 50th Anniversary essay on “The Bell Curve” in 2044 with more scientific data in hand, but nothing much having shifted ideologically over a half century. Eventually, this controversy will be resolved one way or another, but eventually can take a very long time.

– It’s most useful to think of Malthus as giving to us a useful conceptual model of a single tendency:“Malthus” is a unique 7 letter term for a somewhat complex concept, so it’s handy to have in your mental toolkit: e.g., the world would work the way Malthus specified … except for Reasons A, B, and C (or whatever).

– One question is whether Turchin’s generational patterns are important enough to not be swamped by random events like epidemics, barbarian invasions, volcanoes changing the climate, powerful personalities like Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler, etc. If he’s figured out 20% of the variance, that would be impressive, but it would still be hard to see in graphs.

 
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  1. Tiny Duck says:

    The People are waking up. The youth are seeing America for the scam that it is

  2. Anonymous[158] • Disclaimer says:

    Of course, some rather nifty technological innovations of the 19th/20th centuries largely side-stepped hard core Malthusianism in the west, at least, and a present.
    We had the development of artificial birth control, powered high tonnage shipping, and the mass expansion of trade and means of payment and settling payments. Add to that artificial fertilizers, pesticides, selective breeding etc.

    The upshot seems to be that the best led, best run, highest IQ societies can manage to ‘dodge Malthus’, various cunning schemes and methods. The expansion of trade – and the strong desire of land rich but technology poor nations seem to have an insatiable desire for the goodies the techies and engineers can conjure up.
    It is noteworthy that the East Asians are very talented in this regard.

    • Replies: @Liza
  3. Anonymous[158] • Disclaimer says:

    Perhaps, in today’s world, energy – in terms of BTUs for industry and domestic consumers – is *the* binding constraint in raising living standards.

    “The future belongs to He who masters the HTGR modular ‘pebble bed’ reactor’.

  4. bomag says:

    I’ll buy the cycles, but you have to add in technological change.

    The improvement of ocean going ships allowed Europe to export its surplus population, thus extending a growth cycle.

    The fragility of modern infrastructure and the power of bombs have made modern states reluctant to sponsor whole-hog war, thus extending declining cycles.

    Modern ag and manufacturing has given us material abundance, thus extending the cycle of growing those who use the welfare state (Africa (cough)).

    • Agree: Digital Samizdat
  5. peterike says:

    Turchin has made a number of predictions for the near future, such as 2020 being a turbulent year.

    That doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

  6. By the way, Turchin has made a number of predictions for the near future, such as 2020 being a turbulent year. So we may have a better idea of how much to laud him in 18 months.

    History is unpredictable. It isn’t even easy to understand the past. To challenge these ages-old insights, you better come up with good reasons/aspects of your story / or arguments concerning it. Long term Malthusian trends would not be on the top of my list, but I will have a look at Peter Turchin’s and Sergej Nefedovs ideas. Thanks for the hint.

    There are facts which are important for trends. Such as how much how many people know in a society or how (now it’s getting murkier) sane a society is*** or how free individuals are to act or how fair a society is. Not to forget the natural riches.

    I’d say that Heiner Rindermann’s Cognitive Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 2018) is a reasonable basis for thoughts about the of the development of certain societies/ regions.

    *** cf. Haidt/Lukianoff The Coddling of the American Mind Erich Fromm Anatomy of Human Destructiveness

    • Replies: @Twinkie
  7. anonymous[252] • Disclaimer says:

    When population is low, everyone has more than enough land.

    This. The middle class has been hit hard with the massive demographic/population growth over the past few decades. With the looming African population graph dangling over our head like the Sword of Damocles. Mass migration of 3rd world criminal parasites will ensure the War, Famine, Pestilence, Death part. I was agog at the Democrats’ response to Trump’s enforcement of the immigration public charge rule. They really do want all of us, except for the elites, to be at subsistence level.

    • Replies: @HammerJack
  8. HI says:

    The Fourth Turning also described cycles, or turnings, though they focused on 80-year cycles determined by the human lifespan, each cycle having four seasons. Each turning turns out to be about a quarter of Turchin’s supercycle.

    • Replies: @Twodees Partain
  9. Anon[339] • Disclaimer says:

    I’m reminded of that hilarious Michiko Kakutani review of a new Hitler biography right before the 2016 election. No names were mentioned, but reading the review you keep thinking, yikes, this Hitler character sounds just like someone who’s been in the news recently, who was that?, his name’s on the tip of my tongue.

    If only Trump had a minimal amount of that old Hitler magic, we’d have a wall and e-Verify. What a crappy Hitler he turned out to be.

    Alexander’s review, like Kakutani’s, does the old roman-a-clef, but it will probably just as fanciful!

  10. @Tiny Duck

    Interesting presentation.

    Essentially a re-statement of W.E.B. Dubois position: abandon economically productive work, it won’t produce anything good. Become political fighters, organize as a group, and get goods that way. Works for Tammany Hall, it should work for you. The political action Dubois recommended has ended up with the people who followed it being reduced to subsistence in exchange for being a vote farm. Not an appealing proposition.

    OTH, in today’s (2019) indstrial societies, those who perform economically productive work can’t have children, while those who are vote farms can (although they live at a subsistence level, they have the leisure and (small but) predictable income to have children. So maybe old WEB was right after all.

    Counterinsurgency

    • Replies: @Beckow
    , @L Woods
  11. JackOH says:

    “I almost never try to put dates on when I think things will happen, because I’d probably be embarrassingly wrong.”

    Yep.

    I once published an essay the title of which gave a specific year for an event to happen. It was a gimmick, to be sure, and I thought it would be taken as such by readers. I hoped to draw attention to my thinking, and maybe exercise a little influence. I made a little money.

    The influence that I’m aware of was disconcerting. A few months after publication I noticed two comments beneath articles in my local paper, both of which used unusual phrases that appeared to have been lifted from my essay. I’m okay with that. What bugged me was that the phrases gave the impression of being used as ornament for the rest of their comments, which had nothing to do with my thinking. I recall thinking I’d become a supplier of hood-ornament rhetoric for some arsehole who wanted to sound cool and knowing in a slap-box match.

    Robert Heinlein’s Future History chart was pretty neat. When I first saw it in 1966 when I was recovering from kidney surgery, I was startled by “the first human civilization” and the “first mature culture”. How could this Heinlein guy, I wondered, be so smart as to say stuff like that?

  12. Anon[278] • Disclaimer says:

    This is kind of the opposite — digging into details rather than pulling up for the big picture — but I’m reading a couple of books by an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in classics, Raoul McLaughlin, about Roman external trade. It’s chock full of data, and interestingly, explanations of where the data comes from, about Roman trade with Arabia, East Africa, India, and other external powers. You really get a picture of how a part of society worked and everyday life. For instance, incense and other aromatic substances were important in religious rituals, but expanded to perfumes, food seasonings, hair pomades. Roman was hemorrhaging gold and silver for this crap because they had nothing to export that anyone wanted.

    A big import was sand. Indian sand. Arabian sand. African sand. They used it as an abrasive to saw marble, and also to polish marble.

    The ships were 100 feet long, really huge, and they had a huge crew, including medical staff and anti-piracy archers. They had little temples and statues and the like onboard. There was a special ship design whose role was restricted to elephant transport.

    The Romans managed to drive all kinds of plants and animals into extinction.

    Slavery was quite the thing, all races, but Indians and super-black Africans were the highest status, when out and about in Rome. The slaves would go into the lowest level of the ships. They were generally the losers in tribal conflicts.

    I got this guy’s two books for $2.00 apiece in a Kindle sale on Amazon, after seeing them mentioned by Razib Khan. I have a ton of these $2.00 books that I’ll probably never read, but sometimes there are gems.

  13. The problem with the Malthusian Cycle, like the Gold Standard, is that it really only applies to a preindustrial world.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  14. Is there a cycle with political correctness? It seems to start in the ’45 with post-war Frankfurt school calling everyone Nazis, then again in the 70s with dour Marxists and feminists, the mid 90s, and now. In other words, every 25 years. It’s like a generational thing, each having been taught by the previous generation. They’re still calling people Nazis, but the language has become very unmoored from reality.

    • Replies: @Hopscotch
  15. The Z Blog says: • Website

    Social cycle theory is not new. It has its roots in the 18th century, with Oswald Spengler being the most famous promoter of the concept. The notion of generational cycles goes back to the Romans. The saeculum was the period from an important event to the point at which no one alive experienced it.

    Ed Dutton applies the concept in his book, At Our Wit’s End. There is a slow rise in IQ that eventually gives birth to a flourish of cultural achievement. This leads to a slow decline in IQ and a decline in cultural achievement.

    Conceptually it works, but Turchin goes too far. He tries to turn observations about social patterns into a set of engineering rules. There’s also the fact that cycles exist within cycles. The West, for example, is probably nearing the end of a super-cycle that begin in the late Middle Ages. At the same time, we are in the interregnum following the Cold War cycle and whatever comes next. Mostly likely the demographic cycle.

  16. Gordo says:

    Eventually, there are more nobles than there are good positions…

    The Son also Rises..

  17. fish says:
    @Tiny Duck

    You’re right……! You should probably leave.

    • Replies: @nebulafox
  18. scottynx says:

    Didn’t Turchin say the 2020s are going to be turbulent? I recall that instead of the year 2020. That is still a pretty specific prediction, but about 10x times less so than “2020”.

    “In 2010 I made the prediction that the United States will experience a period of heightened social and political instability during the 2020s”.

    http://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/quantitative-prediction-political-violence-2020s/

  19. @Tiny Duck

    Which is precisely why the Alt-right is growing.

  20. Hodag says:

    I think there has not been serious pushback because 1. Hyper-specialization of historians. What intelligent thing could an authority on transgendered slaves in 18th century Martinique have to say about the long peace after the Thirty Years War? and 2. Historians are historians because they are bad with numbers. Most are not equipped to push back.

    • Replies: @Twinkie
    , @ben tillman
  21. “Malthus” is a unique 7 letter term for a somewhat complex concept, so it’s handy to have in your mental toolkit

    In addition to its basic Sapir-Whorf usefulness, the false etymology that jumps out from the name is perfect for what may have been the first great black-pilled idea in the social sciences: “Therefore, badness.”

  22. It’s most useful to think of Malthus as giving to us a useful conceptual model of a single tendency:“Malthus” is a unique 7 letter term for a somewhat complex concept, so it’s handy to have in your mental toolkit: e.g., the world would work the way Malthus specified … except for Reasons A, B, and C (or whatever).

    It’s a baseline idea, like to the carrying capactiy/logistic growth model is. It’s not meant to be perfect, but it’s good for analysis and to some degree, policy (like for wildlife management). It’s an imperfect analogy, but the Hardy Weinberg principle also comes to mind. When you get to a significant departure from the model, it’s an invitation to observe what’s happening on the ground with the population being studied.

    In the case of Malthusianism, there’s “departures” (literally and figuratively), like the examples of resource/space poor “Atlanticist” commerce societies outsourcing to resource rich/capital poor societies for their bounty.

  23. I almost never try to put dates on when I think things will happen, because I’d probably be embarrassingly wrong.

    2020 and the re-election run of Trump is kind of looking like a gimme. The crazies and the globalist cabal will do anything to take down Trump and all the populist movements in the Western World.

  24. The other thing is that, contra Gerald O’Hara, land is no longer the only thing that lasts. You can grow food anywhere in the world and transport it to the hungry mouths.

    Today, wealth is “intangible capital,” the kind in-between human ears. And to my mind that changes everything. For instance, in the way that loot and plunder now impoverishes the very people that authorize it. So, the politicians that go for socialism, to plunder the rich, immediately impoverish their supporters. See Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela, and this week, Argentina.

    So whatever deep cycle is running everything, it is different than the deep cycle that obtained in the agricultural age.

  25. MW says:

    From the review:

    T&N also admit that their theory only describes civilizations insofar as they are self-contained. This approximately holds for hegemons like Rome at its height, but fails for eg Poland, whose history is going to be much more influenced by when Russia or Germany decides to invade …

    This seems like a pretty massive shortcoming if we are trying to understand the modern world. Between global trade and global migration and, well, American troops all over the place, it doesn’t seem that many societies could possibly be working through these cycles in isolation.

  26. I’m in the midst of reading Turchin’s book, “Ages of Discord”, right now. It’s of particular interest to me because it expands upon topics I considered in my dissertation, i.e., work done by Ryder, Easterlin, Keyfitz, Lee, and other demographers explaining the existence of intermediate length cycles in fertility in the post-WW II USA. There are several compelling features to Turchin’s work. First, his model is a linear-dynamic system of equations based on extremely reasonable, almost self-evident, relations among a small number of macro-level variables. Second, long-term data for operationalizing Turchin’s variables are available for a number of countries. Third, and as a result of this second feature, Turchin can estimate the parameters of his model and test its reliability using real world data. There’s no question that his linear dynamic models have far more scientific validity than, e.g. the climatology models so beloved of the UN’s IPCC and progs in general.

    Turchin is also reasonably modest about the predictions of his model. He suggests, that within the limited accuracy inherent in using non-linear dynamic models to project trends – think “butterfly effect” – his model predicts necessary conditions for social stability and instability. He notes that this only sets the stage for sufficient conditions, e.g. the rise of charismatic leaders, natural catastrophes, the discovery of new resources, and technological innovations, to actually initiate periods of extended stability or catastrophic breakdowns in the social order.

    All in all, I’m impressed with what I’ve read so far. But, as you’ve pointed out, Steve, the book is heavy going. Readers not particularly into estimation techniques for non-linear dynamic systems, Cobb-Douglas functions, some fairly abstract thinking about inter-relationships among demographic, economic, social, and political variables, and the like are not likely to find the book stimulating reading. That’s one reason why I suspect Turchin’s work has not caught on among the nation’s intelligentsia to the same degree as far sillier intellectual constructs.
    +

  27. Jesse says:

    People talk about birth control as fueling the sexual revolution. It’s not incorrect so much as incomplete – antibiotics had just as much an effect, if not bigger, and could be claimed to face the same Malthusian pressures.

  28. Liza says:
    @Anonymous

    The sidestepping of the basic laws of nature enabled by our technology and other things that you list is not going to last. Yet most people, including the prowhite crowd, seem to think that it’s only Upward and Onward! for us. lol

  29. Is that George from Seinfeld?

  30. Jesse says:

    Scott Alexander has always struck me as the kind of vaguely Aspire dude laboriously figuring out people and society in a way that Normie’s, and high IQ verbal types, quietly intuited and read as teenagers.

    I mean, good for him and his readership, bit I don’t get the fangirling. He gets a lot wrong – and so confidently!

  31. Whitehall says:
    @peterike

    In fact several 19th century cycle theorists also predicted 2020 as a year of big changes.

    For example, Trotsky predicted a huge hegemonic war at 2020. He didn’t say who though.

    My introduction to the subject was a published doctorate thesis from the MIT Economics department by Joshua Goldstein “Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age.” (1988) The author took all the long-term economics data sets available, such as wheat prices at a Belgium monastery from the 1400s and put them in a computer looking for statistical significance.

    He came up with roughly 80 year cycles of Western hegemonic dominance by various countries. The book had a chart of several theorists (including Trotsky) all predicting 2020 as a year of disruption.

    The book also explores the various causual schools behind cycles. I always liked the one about capital risk-taking and technological development – but then, I’m an engineer.

    • Replies: @El Dato
  32. Hmm, this reads like standard-issue predictable-world bias.

  33. Mike1 says:

    2020 really does have an astonishing number of things that have pointed to it being a turbulent year. This has been visible for a long time.

    One of the easiest things to understand is that the big bump of baby boomers will reach an age where they are required to start drawing down their 401k’s. A law change could modify this impact (which would be a huge deal in itself) but the reality is that part of the group is getting old enough to need the money anyway.

    Cycles are very real but people try to over-fit them. 2020 is a great example. The likelihood of it being a very historical year are high, but if the events coalesce in 2021 there is no lack of accuracy to inputs creating results. People hate things without an exact date, however.

    The next few years are highly likely to see a stock market reversal of roughly 2/3. People simply wont accept this despite the math being relatively understandable (and also the fact that we have had several savage draw-downs in recent decades). People want an exact date bad things will happen on. If you ride a motorbike in a crazy way I can predict the outcome but not tell you when the behavior will produce the result.

  34. Pericles says:

    Lol, with the sort of over the top critiquing SA does of Turchin, one can only suppose he would spit on the corpse of Jared Diamond after beating him to death.

    What’s that, Jared, you don’t have direct access to the budget of the New Guineans? Take this! And this! And you’re not doing a detailed worldwide comparison of every historical culture to support your thesis? This will hurt me more than you. But still, brace yourself.

  35. There is a tide in the affairs of men.

    “Turchin” itself sounds like the name for a sea creature that thrives in sewers.

    Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler

    Throw in Caesar, and you’ve got the Four Horsemen of the EU.

    It cycles with a period of about three hundred years.

    One question is whether Turchin’s generational patterns are important enough to not be swamped by random events like epidemics, barbarian invasions, volcanoes…

    Not to mention by Pitirim Sorokin’s 600-year cycles of ideational and sensate eras.

    Sorokin and Turchin are both Russian émigrés and part of accomplished father-son dyads. Turchin’s father and Sorokin’s son (who invented the dye laser) were both born in 1931. The families’ cycles mesh!

    • Replies: @JRB
  36. syonredux says:
    @Tiny Duck

    The “American Dream” is a myth, and a quite recent one, being coined by James Truslow Adams in 1931. Frankly, I look forward to its disintegration . The America of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln got along perfectly well without it…..

  37. History is predictable (in large swaths) but the timing is not, so forecasting is largely a waste of time.

    Since 1981 owning debt has been a capital gain producer. It was a bull market for long-term debt, and because investing is psychology, not physics, a veritable galaxy of debt was issued, much of it predicated on a literal impossibility: continuous, compound growth.

    This coincided with the greatest mania in social trust in history. We now even trust the Chinese to make circuit boards essential for US weapons systems, not to mention all the “Internet backbone hardware” made in China, boards that seem to have an “extra” chip or two (I wonder why?)

    A Dow above 25,000, enthusiasm for “open borders,” global (ahem) cooperation on manufacturing, inviting the Indians to skew our search results (Google), people send nude selfies through their ISP or cell carrier (who of course is not storing it all on Amazon’s cloud…forever, while logging the location of you, well, your phone, in perpetuity…) while the Peoples Liberation Army helps make weapons for US national defense…all stem from the same pathological herding mania of trust.

    I suggest that there is an upper threshold for societal complexity, above which all roads lead to some kind of paradigm shift. You can’t obtain the parts for your weapons from your adversaries. You can’t invite the world’s culturally non-assimilable peoples to displace your children and grandchildren. You can’t remove all the social guardrails that once helped to guide otherwise self-destructive people away from the many ditches in life (mostly vices like gambling and substance addiction, but now joined by porn/sex addiction, trading the real for the virtual or the belief that men can be women and vice versa.)

    We’re well above the threshold.

    • Replies: @Alfa158
  38. PSR says:

    One significant difference from historical patterns of population growth is that now, for the first time that I can think of, affluent societies are choosing not to reproduce even at replacement numbers but are actually subsidizing huge population growth among the poorest societies.

  39. Mr Steve. Wasn’t Pitirim Sorokhin doing this much better and much earlier. Discuss.

  40. This thesis reminds me of Glubb’s Fate of Empires.

  41. J.Ross says:

    The Fourth Turning has a million potential things wrong with it, but its thesis survives them, and its generational framework is valuable. This book is probably also worth reading despite obvious problems.

  42. Cyclical theory of civilizations, including a proposal on generational personality epicycles:

    https://www.amazon.com/Supercivilizations-Civilizations-Superorganisms-Stephen-Blaha/dp/098190498X

    • Replies: @El Dato
  43. Anonymous[325] • Disclaimer says:

    Of course, the West largely forestalled Malthus by becoming essentially Malthusian – that is practising contraception on an epic scale.

    It’s strange however that The Economist etc declare that the way forward for the West is to permit massive uncontrolled immigration from places which never learned to cope with Malthusian restraints, and thus increase their populations exponentially. In other words, prudence and restraint are all in vain – all you are doing is making room for someone else’s people.

  44. JRB says: • Website
    @Reg Cæsar

    I would also include Clovis, Otto the Great, Louis IX, Luther, Henry VIII and Louis XIV as powerful personalities who changed European history in a remarkable way.

  45. “For example, this October with be the 25th Anniversary of “The Bell Curve” Controversy, with nothing all that exciting having happened over the last 24 years….”

    I agree with you Steve on the stasis…..but why has that occured? To me the feedback mechanisms have not been allowed to work by our elites. e.g. An immigration moratorium seemed possible in the mid 90’s and nothing good happened.

    I cannot see us arriving at 2044 without changes that shake and scar all levels of society. Indeed, Society will have to pay a compound charge for our foolishness and docility….

  46. Twinkie says:
    @Dieter Kief

    History is unpredictable.

    Indeed. Yet predictability is always seemingly near the grasp of mortal men who keep trying. If it were actually predictable, people wouldn’t make or lose money in the equities market, and centrally planned economies would work perfectly.

    History is supposed to teach knowledge of the past and, through it, wisdom for the present and the future. People who think it grants foresight are usually charlatans, madmen, or those overly impressed with their own intellect (which makes them fools).

  47. Twinkie says:
    @Hodag

    Hyper-specialization of historians.

    Yes, that is a rather common issue to all of academia today.

    Historians are historians because they are bad with numbers. Most are not equipped to push back.

    There is a faction of historians who are extremely quantitatively deterministic. They are usually wrong a lot.

    • LOL: Jus' Sayin'...
    • Replies: @Jus' Sayin'...
  48. @peterike

    Turchin has made a number of predictions for the near future, such as 2020 being a turbulent year.

    That doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

    No, no, no!

    Remember the MSM handbook rule:

    “Turbulent” must always be juxtaposed with either “Resilient” or “Vulnerable”!

    https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/hillary-clinton-emerged-resilient-turbulent-white-house-years

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/a-turbulent-week-for-trump-overshadows-clintons-vulnerabilities/2016/08/20/672d4b26-66dd-11e6-b4d8-33e931b5a26d_story.html

  49. Sean says:

    http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2019/08/classical-antiquity-was-low-point-of.html%5BL%5Dong before Darwin, Aristotle came up with another explanation: adaptation through natural selection. Change initially occurs by accident. If the change is good, the changed life-form will survive and reproduce; if not, it will perish. Good changes are therefore kept and bad changes lost. Thus, all aspects of living matter look “as if they were made for the sake of something,” but this is only illusion. There is no conscious “maker” of all things:

    Turchin says Plato had a cycle theory of society that was similar to his. Galton thought the peak of Ancient Greek intelligence was epitomized by the free born population of Attica in the century begining 530 BC. Aristotle was born in the north of Greece 384 BC so a few hundred years later the country was still producing intelects as powerful as any in human history.

    I dare say Turchin and Plato are both right about any society AOTBE, but the intelligence of public intellectuals must be expected to be based on that of the general population in that society.

    http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-golden-age-of-intelligence.html

    This research is especially exciting because the Reich lab released ancient DNA data not only from ancient Greece but also from elsewhere. History may end up being seen in a new light. For instance:

    – Rome probably went through a similar increase in mean intelligence, followed by decline. When did the decline begin? During the collapse of the fifth century? I suspect earlier, perhaps in the third century. The barbarian invasions were both a cause and effect in the collapse of Roman civilization.

    – The Enlightenment was due only in part to things like the invention of the printing press, the voyages of discovery, and the founding of universities. These were subsidiary causes that resulted from and supported a more fundamental change: a steady increase in the smart fraction of European societies—the proportion of people who enjoy reading, writing and, above all, thinking.

    http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2019/08/classical-antiquity-was-low-point-of.html To date, two studies have used these research tools to chart changes in mean intelligence. The first study used ancient DNA from Europe and central Asia and found that the polygenic cognitive score gradually increased between 4,560 and 1,210 years ago (Woodley of Menie et al 2017).

    This finding has been nuanced by a second study, using a sample of ancient DNA that was much larger and only from ancient Greece. It found that mean intelligence was initially high in ancient Greece and then began to decline after the end of the Mycenaean period in 1100 BC (Woodley of Menie et al. 2019). It looks like intelligence was at first strongly advantageous as humans adapted to increasing social complexity: farming, sedentism, literacy … Then something made it much less advantageous.

    Its speculative but I think in the West John Law’s 17th century invention of fractional reserve banking–the final piece in the modern capitalist machine–roughly coincides with when intelligence began to be selected against. We also have a demographic transition.

    If elite overproduction and maybe a youth bulge are important then the only way there can be the Civil War in America that Turchin worries about is by immigration of elites into the society. For anyone of Turchin’s school of thought, Russia–never the having been words no 1–would seem to be gently declining in the international pecking order, but a domestically stable place place in the near future. He says Hitler a tyrant (in Plato’s terminology) was largely a reaction to the discrediting of the old German elite by them leading the country to external defeat in WW1, and there was a demographically burgeoning young Germany.

    I think indigenous American elites and the common people will not accept being overtaken by China, that is part of why immigration restriction has got traction. The US Deep State is going to ally with the Red Staters against the East and West coast and the Wall St globalists.

    • Replies: @William D. Wall
  50. Beckow says:
    @Counterinsurgency

    …in today’s (2019) industrial societies, those who perform economically productive work can’t have children, while those who are vote farms can – although they live at a subsistence level

    The elites see it as the ultimate in division of labor. One thing all elites believe in is division of labor, or specialisation, since it leads to ever higher productivity. The setup is rational, but ends with a model where all children are imported, or imported via bringing in their subsistence mothers to live in the West. And all working people are set to die off.

    It is a crazy system that has never been tried on this scale. The consequences are potentially catastrophic, we already have a demographic time-bomb in the West of replacement population in place, there are also 60 million surplus young males in India alone (due to sex selection), places with huge surplus of kids neatly correspond to the least productive areas of the world.

    It works for the 1% (am I in the wrong year here?).

  51. @peterike

    Well the new recession appears to be ramping up. Along with demographics and electoral legerdemain tipping the last two remaining big red states (Florida and Texas) at least we won’t have to worry about a presidential contest next year.

  52. @anonymous

    If humans had the sense to control their population levels, strife would be greatly reduced. But to succeed, such a strategy would need to involve controlling the population levels of those too stupid to do it for themselves.

  53. L Woods says:
    @Counterinsurgency

    They live at a pretty damned high level of “subsistence.”

  54. El Dato says:

    Most interesting. I wish I had even more time to get into this.

    Reminds me that Anatoly Karlin had a review of “The Collapse of Complex Societies” a while back

    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/tainter-collapse-of-complex-societies/

    Relevant Comic: “How the future was won”

    I never got this when I was younger but the future Zion is apparently shown as being born of science & engineering … and gangsterism. And thus it will fail around 10 books later.

  55. Alfa158 says:
    @dc.sunsets

    The US military mostly buys the integrated circuits rather than assembled boards. The technique of adding extra chips to a board is pretty clumsy and not the best way to hack military electronics.
    The way it might work is that chip foundries are almost all located outside the US. When the net lists and lithography masks are sent to the foundry, the Chinese would add their circuitry to the masks. The new circuitry would be designed in so that it will be bypassed in the scan test used to verify circuit functionality. The only way to tell if your circuit has been hacked is to de-cap the chip and have engineers laboriously compare your original mask to electron microscope pictures of the chip which may have literally billions of transistors. Try to guess how long that it would take to find the needle of a little added circuitry in that haystack. It would be easier for a building inspector to find the one un-permitted garden shed in the Los Angeles metropolitan area by comparing current to earlier Google Earth photos of the area.

  56. @HI

    That’s the one I thought of as well. Jim Quinn has been writing articles on it for a few years, and I have to admit, it bores the shit out of me, though Jim is really a pretty good writer, at least as bloggers go..

  57. El Dato says:
    @Ozymandias

    Hmmm… According to the two 5 star reviews which just dump author bio (how does amazon let this through?), the author is some kind of Count of St. Germain of the Sciences and has done research in anything that is sufficiently edgy & complex, including fundamental physics. Yet I have never heard of him as far as I can remember. Google hits are uh … “sparse”. Try googling for Ed Witten instead to see the difference.

    And a search for “Blaha’s Lemma” purportedly used in Knuth’s “Art of Computer Programming” yields nothing.

    These books (expensive ones, too) are generally trying to do too much as the author overestimates his adequacy by a very large margin. Is he really talking about transdimensional trips in there??

    The distilled core of such theses can often be compressed into a paper or two whereupon the equations turn out to not be all that hot.

  58. El Dato says:
    @Whitehall

    But this is just pure numerology.

    We totally know for a fact that once a system gets complex enough, it becomes chaotic and you stick your cycles where the sun doesn’t shine – the overall modi of the system may well change unpredictably from one “metastable” state to another, seemingly out of the blue, then sit there for some time, the change to another state etc.

    This is why climate change is interesting: people think it is linear and changes in somewhat predictable ways (the brain really can’t understand anything else than “linear”). But then all of a sudden you have to adapt to badly shifted wind patterns and lack of rain which ain’t gonna change for a few hundred years.

    • Replies: @Whitehall
  59. @Twinkie

    “There is a faction of historians who are extremely quantitatively deterministic. They are usually wrong a lot.”

    Kudos! You’ve captured the essence of the matter in a pithy and amusing way.

  60. c matt says:

    At least since Nov. 9, 2016, calling 2020 to be a turbulent year is like calling the sun to rise in the east.

  61. Freedom man says: • Website

    Hi Steve. Big fan. Thanks for compensating for my laziness/need to make a living, but you re-frame issues with erudition and make me feel less alone. Sincere thanks!

    Check out Martin Armstrong. I’m enamored of cycles and never found any that survived my testing and basic common sense. Except for Armstrong. Caution: his blog is not accurate. He admits it. But, I’ve been following his actual system’s cycle work for 20 years, with professional money on the line. He’s the Real Deal in my opinion. The only problem for you is that his system needs to be used with good programming knowledge. We are beta testing it. He has a big following. And he’s been ignored or belittled by msm for ages, so his cred is served on a plate from that angle. He can do level and time. We’re taught that’s impossible. Check him out. Armstrongeconomics.com. But remember, his system is good, but he’s Just a Human (and admits it), so the blog is fun but not usable in the detailed way I need. Maybe you’ll like it.

    Regards,

    Anonymous

    • Replies: @J.Ross
  62. 202o is going to be bad; many generational or cyclical thinkers have predicted it. We’ve had two near-disputed elections out of the last five and the trend is toward more dispute. I give even odds that on 20 Jan 2021 we have a disputed election. And by disputed, I mean multiple states refusing to certify their electors, floor fights in Congress to prevent an acting president from being named…

    I would add that 4/45 presidents were assassinated. The odds aren’t that low. All it takes is one nut. I have my doubts that an assassination today would result in a Constitutional transfer of power.

    Our standard of living is stagnant, people are killing themselves with pills, and college and housing are unaffordable. These are fairly solvable problems, but the system can’t solve them. So people are starting to think the whole system needs to be burned down, because what happens when there is a real problem like an invasion or an epidemic? Is the system up to handling that kind of event? The threshold for real disorder is getting lower and lower.

  63. @Sean

    Nick Land has written that modernity simultaneously selects for and cannibalizes intelligence. I believe he got this from Spandrell over at Bloody Shovel, who called modern super-cities “IQ Shredders”. The concept is that these super-cities attract the upper echelons of intelligence from around the globe through the prospect of making prodigious amounts of shekels. In the process of seeking these shekels, the intelligent then have their fertility driven down into the basement. So by one measure their intelligence is selected for and rewarded. But by the measure of who passes on their genes, they are obviously not.

    In regards to what you said about immigration, I have not seen any significant statistical evidence that a large swath of Americans are against immigration. In fact, support for static or increased immigration is high. The “nation of immigrants” meme is still working over time, though I can’t help but think that if we ever break through this barricade the backlash will be significant. But, in the end, I am afraid I am not optimistic. Ironically, we may one day end up with a Hispanic majority that closes the door on immigration long after whitey has become a minority

    Oh and here is the link to a Gallup poll
    https://news.gallup.com/poll/1660/immigration.aspx

  64. J.Ross says:
    @Freedom man

    Is Freedom Man any relation to Mister Freedom?

  65. nebulafox says:
    @fish

    Wow, you must be dead-tired of that shtick if you can’t make a Leonard Pitts joke about Adam Conover. Talk about low-hanging, very fat, juicy fruit.

  66. @Hodag

    Historians are historians because they are bad with numbers.

    That’s a silly claim.

  67. @Anonymous

    It’s strange however that The Economist etc declare that the way forward for the West is to permit massive uncontrolled immigration from places which never learned to cope with Malthusian restraints, and thus increase their populations exponentially. In other words, prudence and restraint are all in vain – all you are doing is making room for someone else’s people.

    Perhaps those who own The Economist want to get rid of your kind. It looks less strange in that light.

  68. Alice says:

    if we had honest scientists, we would really pay attention to historical climate change. we know that it was cold, not warm, that led to starvation. subsistence living means one bad harvest snd leople die. and cold brings on flu. such colds happened in Europe in the little ice age, and 300 or so years before that, and around the collapse of the western Roman Empire, and… these are evidently related to sunspot activity.

    are we technologically advanced enough to keep this current new little cold climate event from syarving the planet? should we try? the US of A has so much more of everything, in terms of available natural resources than Europe and Africa. arable land. water supplies. trees. land. land. energy. land. it is only regulation and legislation locking it up, not a lack of resources.

    if these secular downturns are really sunspot related, that would be ..informative. truly important, yet the fatuous scientists can’t be bothered to be serious. if history depends on sunspots, then it’s actually predictable in the future.

    but i think the US is past even such climate affects leading us to subsistence. yes some people will die of hunger. but not large percentages here.

    • Agree: Prodigal son
    • Replies: @Anonymous
  69. Anonymous[414] • Disclaimer says:
    @Redneck farmer

    The problem with the Malthusian Cycle, like the Gold Standard, is that it really only applies to a preindustrial world.

    Why is that?

  70. @Anonymous

    It’s strange however that The Economist etc declare that the way forward for the West is to permit massive uncontrolled immigration from places which never learned to cope with Malthusian restraints, and thus increase their populations exponentially.

    Maybe the people behind The Economist have an agenda that they’re not telling you about …

  71. Hopscotch says:
    @TelfoedJohn

    Political correctness in the US is overwhelmingly a Jewish intellectual movement, with the only interludes of wider cultural involvement being 1950’s desegregation and the 1960’s feminists. In order to understand how political correctness has evolved over the years, you are better off tracing Jewish intellectual trends from 1910’s to 2000’s or so, when Jewish predominance in the humanities and social sciences began to wane.

    Probably the clearest overall articulation of this is Culture of Critique. There are other, more domain-specific works, like In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, which does not dwell specifically on the Jewish aspect, per se. But if you are familiar with the historians being discussed, you realize they are overwhelmingly Jewish.

    In the 20th century, the overarching theme for secular Jewish intellectuals, is less a revulsion to Fascist abuses (which obviously left a mark, but not enough to kill the appeal of totalitarian utopias) but more, an attraction with socialism, mainly as a reaction to historical gentile culture. Once you see this, tracing the intellectual fads (along with their coded language) is a straightforward exercise.

    • Replies: @peterike
    , @Anonymous
    , @J.Ross
  72. Whitehall says:
    @El Dato

    Good to know I can get a Ph,D at MIT in “pure numerology.”

    So, which country was the global hegemon from the Seven Years War of 1750’s to the Napoleonic Wars of 1815?

    Which country from the Napolonic Wars to WWI?

    From WWII (1945) to today?

    Prior to the Seven Years war, Spain and the Dutch traded places.

    The wars mentioned were statistically significant outliers in war-related deaths, just like war deaths since WWII have been vastly overwhelmed by the WWII toll.

    China clearly intends to restore itself to its ancient position as hegemon, at first in its neighborhood and later over the world.

    Comparison to the hoax of “global warming” is fallacious although I will grant human systems are almost as complex. But for hegemons, there is only one at a time.

    • Replies: @El Dato
  73. peterike says:
    @Hopscotch

    you are better off tracing Jewish intellectual trends from 1910’s to 2000’s or so, when Jewish predominance in the humanities and social sciences began to wane.

    I agree completely with the thrust of your post, but how do you see Jewish predominance waning? Who or what is replacing it?

    I’ll grant that there has been a very rapid growth in the number of Asians holding prominent positions in humanities / social sciences, and a fair amount of white Hispanics (some of them also Jewish), but for the most part they all seem to be carrying on the same Jewish intellectual trends of minoritarianism in general and attacks on whites specifically. I don’t see any sign of a push-back or change in direction.

    PS – Interesting how my Windows spell-check doesn’t recognize “minoritarianism” and tries to replace it with “majoritarianism.”

    • Replies: @Hopscotch
  74. Anonymous[707] • Disclaimer says:
    @Alice

    and cold brings on flu.

    Why does cold bring on flu?

    • Replies: @Alice
  75. Anonymous[707] • Disclaimer says:
    @Hopscotch

    an attraction with socialism, mainly as a reaction to historical gentile culture.

    What is the relevance of socialism to a “reaction to Gentile culture”? I do not see the connection.

    Don’t Jews advocate for socialism more in a “socialism for thee but not for me” way?

    Once you see this, tracing the intellectual fads (along with their coded language) is a straightforward exercise.

    See what exactly? What are some examples of coded language?

  76. Many examples of such cycles in Chinese history–that was how most dynasties started and ended.

  77. Hopscotch says:

    I think there is some truth to Turchin’s claim about “elite overproduction” and its destabilizing effects. IMHO, the chief personality characteristics of an elite are: (a) the desire for recognition, (b) the desire to see their ideology imposed upon others, and (c) the ambition to put a plan into action to achieve both. This seems to capture the difference between say, a well-to-do local farmer and a deep state apparatchik.

    Turchin does not mention this directly, but I think a lot of this has been driven by the rise of two-income households, often with few children. The Clintons are the epitome of this. This has consolidated a great deal of wealth in a few households, and increasingly in a few zip codes. Additionally, the breakdown in local civil society, means there are fewer outlets, through which an aspiring elite can seek recognition and impose their views. In the 1950’s, you had a local church board or charity, which bettered the community. Now, those local options are gone, so you have people with pent-up mental energy, an abundance of resources, and a lack of outlets.

    Additionally, one tactic of third-world despots is to divert the ambitions of elites into the military. I cannot help but notice the same with our ongoing wars in the Middle East. Regardless of their strategic necessity, many people used the wars as an avenue for promotion. If you remove those outlets, I suspect it will be destabilizing long-term, particularly since other civilian avenues are gradually being closed off, largely out of hostility towards white men.

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
  78. El Dato says:
    @Whitehall

    PhDs at MIT not in hard engineering don’t impress me.

    Not that’s too harsh: They may have value but nothing to do with reality.

    put them in a computer looking for statistical significance

    This raises ten million warning flags about testable, reproducible results and look-elsewhere effects. People can’t even get statistics on hospital phenomena right. Don’t trust a statistician under 40 etc.

    What’s the causal model here? Why are things the way they are?

    It’s numerology.

    Comparison to the hoax of “global warming” is fallacious

    There is global warming, deal with it. Whether it goes away later on not remains to be seen.

  79. J.Ross says:
    @Hopscotch

    Political correctness lends itself to comparison with the episode of killing anyone who couldn’t pronounce shibboleth, but there’s an apolitical, mechanical, non-ethnic explanation too: you’ve got to be a control freak when there’s not that many of you, and you’ve got to try cult mind control tricks when you’re having a heart attack about what folks are thinking.

  80. @Hopscotch

    “elite overproduction”

    That is one aspect which is deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition – diminishing elites in a useful way. The cult and the letters and the arts and the rather undangerous life of the clergy made catholicism attractive for bright people – and at the same time: Kept their numbers down.

  81. Hopscotch says:
    @peterike

    Most importantly, the number of younger secular Jews is collapsing in academia and the other cultural commanding heights. For example, at Penn, self-identifying ethnic Jews fell 20% during 2010 – 2016. For religious Jews, it fell 35%. The leading indicators of intermarriage rates and birth rates suggest this will continue for the foreseeable future.

    Additionally, academia — particularly in non-empirical fields — is highly hierarchical and pedigree-driven. In the past, pockets of Jewish professors (with a disproportionate number of Jewish doctoral advisees) at an elite universities cornered several academic fields, like anthropology, sociology, psychology and much of modern US political history. Additionally, ethnic nepotism in other industries (publishing, media, law, etc.) played a role in promulgating their ideas to a wider audience, giving them acceptance. Now that the cohort of younger Jews in academia and other industries is drying up, the echo chamber is harder to maintain and much less surreptitious.

    In terms of what will replace it, it will not be an improvement ideologically. But from a transparency point-of-view, it is an improvement. We can increasingly see these fields are politicized and run by charlatans. But 50 years ago, these fields became the default world view for our educated class, on both sides of the political spectrum.

  82. Alice says:
    @Anonymous

    a good question. is influenza present but immune systems keep up with enough sunlight and therefore vitamind d? does enough sunlight actually kill the virus, preventing contamiation from surfaces ?there’s plenty of close contact in the summer in AC buildings and swimming pools in the Southern states, and plenty of colds to match, but not flu.

    if not that, then what? and again, seems something an actual scientist interested in the secular climate temperature pattwrns would look into…

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